Texas plan not appropriate for Florida universities

Gov. Rick Scott has expressed interest in reforming higher education in Florida by imitating a plan proposed by Gov. Rick Perry of Texas, even asking Florida college presidents their opinions on the proposal, according to Jacksonville’s News4Jax.

The Texas plan, called “Seven Breakthrough Solutions,” attempts to improve colleges and universities primarily by changing how professors are paid and evaluated. The Texas plan is overreaching in its scope, and rather ironic coming from a governor who says he champions less regulation.

The crux of the Texas plan is the first point: “Measure teaching efficiency and effectiveness.” It proposes doing so by relying on student evaluations and the “average percentage of A’s and B’s awarded.” Student evaluations are useful references but should not be a basis of Human Resources and tenure policy.

This creates an obvious incentive to give more high grades to students since grades are attached to professor income. In case of that situation, the Texas plan suggests to “limit the maximum number of A’s and B’s awarded in each class.” This could potentially hurt both students who may lose a fair grade to an “A’s and B’s” quota and professors who would lose their academic freedom to create their own grading schedules.

Another point, “Publicly recognize and reward extraordinary teachers,” which suggests creating financial incentives for teachers with high evaluations, has already been implemented to some degree at USF. According to a July 11 article in the Oracle, both a 2 percent average base salary increase and 1 percent average bonus for faculty varied depending on faculty evaluations. The point to “put state funding directly in the hands of students” and its suggestion to create “student-directed scholarships for undergraduate and graduate education” has already been implemented throughout the state of Florida through programs such as Florida Bright Futures and Academic Learning Compacts.

Florida State University President Eric Barron has criticized the plan and offered a counter-proposal called “Breakthrough Solutions for Higher Education: Florida Can Do Better Than Texas.” This proposal distinguishes itself from the Texas plan by rejecting the heavy dependence on student evaluations as a basis for teacher quality, which Barron said was “insufficient to promote a heavy education.”

His suggested measures for teaching effectiveness, for instance, stretch beyond student evaluations to also include peer evaluations, pre-course and post-course knowledge tests, evaluation of the persistence of knowledge in the major and post-graduation assessment. Barron’s plan has sparked others’ interest and, according to the St. Petersburg Times, will be discussed at the Florida Board of Governors’ meeting in November.

Though his points are still arguable, Barron’s proposal is much more appropriate for Florida universities than the Texas plan that Scott is currently backing. Scott cannot afford to reform higher education based on a plan that is not even fully applicable to the state of Florida.